William David McCain (1955-1975)

The Board of Trustees selected State Archivist Dr. William David McCain as the school’s fifth president, and he assumed the office Aug. 18, 1955, promising to keep the campus “dusty or muddy with construction.”

Dr. McCain's selection followed a brief tenure as acting president by faculty member and dean Dr. Richard Aubrey McLemore from Jan. 1 to Aug. 17, 1955.

At least 17 new buildings were erected during the McCain administration, including Reed Green Coliseum.

Dr. McCain’s driving ambition, however, was to achieve university status for MSC, a drive that was sponsored by the Alumni Association. To that end, he reorganized the academic programs into colleges and schools, and on Feb. 27, 1962, Gov. Ross Barnett signed the bill that made Mississippi Southern College a university: The University of Southern Mississippi.

The second watershed event of the McCain administration occurred in September 1965 when, for the first time in the school’s history, African-American students were admitted. The first students were Raylawni Young Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong.

Other noteworthy events of the McCain era include formation of the Oral History Program in 1971 and establishment of the Southern Miss Gulf Park Campus in 1972. Also in 1972, the nickname of the athletic teams was changed from “Southerners” to “Golden Eagles.”

Dr. McCain retired from the presidency June 30, 1975. During his 20-year presidency, enrollment grew to 11,000.